|Building a Cathedral at Annecy, France
Early 20th century
Lectionary Passage for This Week: Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”4But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. 7Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.”8But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”9He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.18On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,
We often read this story with Abram as the hero, trusting and faithful to God, who follows God’s call and believes God’s promises. After all, Abram would become the patriarch of three worldwide religions. But even Abram was not perfect. Yes, the truth is, Abram was more like us than we care to admit. He told himself that he trusted God, that God had made a great promise of descendants to him. And he had waited and waited and nothing had happened. So, he took care of it. After all, he was old, Sarai was old. Time was slipping away. Something had to be done. But, in Abram’s defense, remember what “barrenness” meant in that time. An absence of children was not just a discontinuation of one’s line or one’s name. It was death. There would be no one to care for you, no one to work with you to provide. Barrenness or infertility was looked upon as failure. It meant that God had not blessed you or provided for you.
But, God clarifies the promise a little bit more. This is not the heir that God had been talking about. The heir shall be a biological child of Abraham and Sarah rather than a surrogate birth. Well, I’m sure you can see Abraham rolling his eyes a bit. Are you kidding me? Because, you see, I’m really, really old. My wife is really, really old. This is just not normal. This is not even rational. This is nuts!
Well, we know how the story turns out. God, once again, in spite of Abram, comes through. The truth is, that’s pretty much what God does. We can plan and prepare and even force things to happen but when it’s all said and done, things will happen in God’s time. The truth is, hard as it may be for us to admit, the fruits of trust and faith do not come to harvest when we think they should. Did you read the last line of the passage? Abram did not get the promise of land. The land was to go to his descendants. He was not called to deliver the world; rather, he was called to be a small part of a long line of the faithful that God would call. The realization of God’s promise was not immediate gratification. (I mean, did you think that you were the only one to which God was making promises?)
Maybe that’s our whole problem. Maybe we want to see the fruits of our faith now, in our lifetime. Maybe faith is about realizing that we are part of a deep and abiding relationship between God and humanity as the holy and the sacred sort of dribbles into our world little by little. Our part is important but it is, oh, so much bigger than us. In fact, it’s really not even rational the way we think it should be. Maybe that’s what makes it faith. Faith does not teach us to believe; it teaches us to wait with expectant hope that when the time comes, the clouds will part and the light will break through. In the meantime, we are called to keep building cathedrals, brick by brick, knowing that it doesn’t matter whether or not we see them completed but only that we had faith enough to imagine it to be.
So, on this Lenten journey, let go of needing to see the result and instead do your part to make it be.
Grace and Peace,